Green camping: top tips for eco friendly nights under canvas

| 3rd August 2010
Eco camping kit
Camping at the Buzzards, a tiny campsite in North Herefordshire

Camping at The Buzzards, North Herefordshire

Dixe Wills offers nuggets of wisdom on environmentally friendly camping, down to what stoves and fuel to use, and what not to pack

Anyone who has gained any sort of reputation for ‘knowing about camping' will tell you that they get asked two sorts of questions at parties.

1. Do you know any good campsites?

and 2. Have you got any tips on what to take the next time I go?

Although nowadays I can happily answer the first request with a jovial ‘buy my book', the latter requires a somewhat more complex response because, sadly, there is no definitive list of essential camping equipment, and once you start attempting to become eco-friendly while camping, the waters become murkier still. So, draw up a chair, grab that bowl of peanuts, and we'll see if we can edge towards some sort of clarity together.

First off, it's important to remember that what you don't take is almost as important as what you do take. It's all too easy to weigh yourself down with home comforts and gadgets when the joy of camping consists to a great extent in being footloose and fancy free.

I always feel a bit sorry for those campers who spend hours painstakingly replicating their homes in the corner of a field as if moving house was part of the fun of a holiday. So, for what it's worth, aside from a small tent, sleeping bag and spare clothes (including waterproofs, unless the weather forecast is phenomenal), here's a list of what I take with me:

• An airbed (be aware: there is definitely a correlation between the amount one spends and the soundness of one's sleep)
• Swiss Army knife
• Head torch
• Cooking equipment (stove, fuel, pot, mug, spoon and lighter)
• Food (couscous is brilliant - avoid tins and anything over ambitious)
• Tea bags (it isn't camping otherwise)
• Frisbee (source of entertainment and plate rolled into one)
• Milk powder (for tea or cereals when far from supplies of fresh milk - I've just become a vegan so I now take powdered soya milk)
• Toiletries
• Travel towel
• Loo roll
• Water bottle
• Trowel (for locations far from the nearest loo)
• Some method of water purification (for far flung areas)
• Map (I should take a compass too but I usually forget)

In my head I know that anything above and beyond this should be counted as a luxury.

'Camping porn'

That of course doesn't stop me from burdening myself with at least two or three paperbacks and having to will myself to resist all sorts of what a friend richly describes as ‘camping porn' - the million-and-one gadgets now available to anyone who cares to hit the countryside with a tent. Often miniaturised versions of household objects, they can be heard crying out to the unwary, ‘Look at me! I'll hardly take up any room in your bag'.

Most, however, seem to have been invented to create a need you didn't know you had. The same friend who coined the term camping porn owns a lantern that boasts its own remote control, for instance. He hasn't, as yet, splashed out on an inflatable banana carrier (a snip at £3.99) but I know he has a lamp that he fits onto his bottle to make all the water in it light up. I can say this for certain because I gave it to him for his birthday. I know, I'm a bad person.


But there is, it has to be said, some gadgetry that is genuinely useful to the camper and it's this area that seems to be greening up its act. Torches, radios and phone chargers now all come in small lightweight wind-up versions. Indeed, torches can also be powered by the repeated pulling of a trigger, giving them a good shake, or simply leaving them out in the sun. Radios too come in solar-powered form, though the technology will need to take a great leap forward if they're going to cope with digital broadcasts which need up to ten times more power to receive than current analogue ones.

Before you dive in and purchase any renewable energy product though, ask yourself how much you're actually going to use it. If the answer is once or twice a year it's likely that buying them will be more damaging to the environment than just taking along the battery-powered gear you already own.


Cooking is another tricky area for the would-be greenie. The single-use disposable barbecue is obviously a no-no. The butane/propane cylinder is not as potent as, say, methane when it comes to greenhouse gases, but it's hardly very friendly either (and the smaller-sized cylinders all go to landfill too). Methylated spirits, being alcohol-based, are less damaging (though toxic to us and wildlife), as are hexamine-based Esbit tablets (don't worry if you've never heard of these, we're firmly on camping geek territory here).

But the very best way of heating your food - assuming the sun isn't hot enough to do it for you - is by burning a little dead wood. It's trickier, of course, and the fire should be kept off the ground to avoid damaging plantlife and soil, but it's also far more satisfying in a Ray Mears-y sense. I've thus started using a clever flat-pack device called a honey stove. In dry weather it will hold a miniature bonfire of twigs and, should the rains come, it will also support my meths burner.


And finally, to that most elemental need of any camper: water. While virtually every campsite in the land provides drinking water on tap, wild campers either have to take all theirs with them, buy it in bottles (let's not even go there...), or rely on streams, rivers and lakes. The jury is out as to which method of purifying wild water is the greenest - choose between chlorine drops/tablets (iodine-based products are now banned in the EU), filters, or even a battery-powered ultra violet device called a SteriPEN.

In the end, it's probably wisest not to get too hung up about making yourself the greenest camper the world has ever seen, especially if it's only for a week or two a year. Just try to avoid my greatest ever camping mistake: the glorious occasion on which I forgot to pack my tent. Oops.

Some green camping links

Backpacking Light
Inventors of the honey stove

Green Outdoor
Tents made from recycled plastic bottles, hemp and bamboo

Cerenety Eco Camping
Campsite at Bude, Cornwall offering solar and wind powered showers, compost toilets and PYO veggies

Dixe Wills is the author of Tiny Campsites (£10.99, Punk)

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